By MEGAN HUSSEY
Live Oak Theatre, like many arts groups, has had to change with the times in the era of COVID-19. And in the case of Live Oak, this Hernando institution is launching a whole new era of theatrical entertainment.
In a newsletter to members, Live Oak president and artistic director Randi Olsen detailed numerous plans for the 2020/21 season; and her overall message seems to be, "The show will go on."
"By the Grace of God our doors are open and we are pressing on in our mission to bring Family Friendly theatre to our Community," said Olsen. "I can’t wait to see what this new Season at Live Oak holds for us."
These plans include a new stage for new times.
"One of the most exciting projects will be the creation of an outdoor performance space. We have plans to build an outdoor stage which will cost about $1000-1500 in materials," she wrote. "The outdoor stage will allow us to continue to produce and rehearse our fall productions outside (weather permitting) on a stage that is built with the same specs as our indoor stage. The audience will sit on the Veranda and the lawn. This will allow us to seat up to 100 people in a safe, socially distanced, outdoor setting that will be comfortable for our audience and performers. Any donations of skilled labor or funds to make this happen would be greatly appreciated! We’re hoping to have the outdoor performance space ready by September."
Live Oak spokesman Vince Vanni says that the outdoor stage will be "roughly 16 x 24 feet. As we move forward, who’s to say that things may expand. (And a curtained stage) is not our style. Everything we do involves immersion (at a safe distance) into the audience as well as openness."
Live Oak also boasts a fresh interior, thanks to a summer renovation project.
"In our “down time” we’ve been busy re-organizing backstage and the costume shop. The curtains have been re-hung to create a cleaner look on the stage. The floor in the ballroom has been repaired and an additional set of barres has been installed to allow for more students in our dance classes," Olsen wrote. "The Veranda has been painted and the front rooms have been reorganized and flip-flopped to create a larger playroom as well as a future gift shop. Walmart generously donated a huge 53 foot trailer that will be used for set storage."
Next up, wrote Olsen, is an exterior renovation.
"The summer rain/growing season is currently upon us and we could use some help with mowing and trimming."
The theatre seeks volunteers able to help mow, weed, trim or pick up garbage, branches around the property. They are also looking for donations of working mowing or trimming equipment, weed wackers or push mowers.
Also freshened have been the safety procedures in practice at the theatre.
"Live Oak’s building has never been cleaner or more sanitized!" wrote Olsen. "We have been carefully monitoring CDC guidelines since we opened for Camp this summer. Temperatures are taken by anyone who enters the building. Hand sanitizer stations are set up throughout the building and we’ve been spraying down seats, ballet barres, bathrooms, doorknobs and just about everything else that can be sprayed on a regular basis.....Anyone with symptoms of any kind of illness are encouraged to stay home until they are well. Sadly, our “No PDA” policy has been expanded to include hugs for the time being (This is a tough one for all of us!). Masks are encouraged but not mandatory for classes and rehearsals and social distancing will be encouraged at all times."
So what will audiences see onstage at Live Oak for the upcoming season? While the schedule is subject to change and a planned performance of "80 Days" (a grand interpretation of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days") is on hold, on the schedule are classic plays by the Bard (for a series of Shakespeare in the Park productions) and Oscar Wilde, along with a Renaissance-style theatrical presentation for the holidays.
"For the safety of our audience and performers we realized we need to do smaller shows with smaller casts this year, at least through the fall," Olsen wrote. " Auditions will be by invitation only for our Shakespeare and Importance of Being Earnest productions. The Choral will make up most of the cast of the Madrigal Dinner, although we will be recruiting some recurring characters from past Madrigals and possibly ReUnKnighted. As life returns to some semblance of normalcy, we plan to hold open auditions for “The Little Earl” in early 2021 for a May 2021 production."
And this is just the beginning.
"The good news is we’ll be adding more events, and more productions to the schedule which will still allow everyone to come out and “play” on not one, but 2 stages… possibly 3," Olsen wrote. "Rather than selling Season Tickets, we will be offering “Flex Passes” to our Season Ticket holders. This will allow people to purchase multiple tickets at a discount that can be used for all of our productions, both MainStage and Youth Theatre productions as well as concerts and events. Last Season's season ticket holders will be rolled over to Flex passes for this upcoming Season of performances."
Live Oak Theatre also is doing much to foster the creative talents and interests of younger thespians.
"We all had a blast and by running camps all summer long we were able to cover our operating expenses and stay “in the black” while many other performing arts venues in the country were forced to remain closed. We were able to operate 6 separate performing arts camps throughout “the peak” with no closures or issues. That was a serious answer to prayer! I want to give a shout out to our Staff, Teachers and Volunteers who worked really hard all summer long to make those camps happen!" Olsen wrote. "We were also able to safely write, produce, rehearse and perform 2 performances of a new one act version of Live Oak’s “Peter Pan” in the Theatre last month. Seating was limited and socially distanced, temperatures were taken before entry, the audience wore masks and a good time was had by all as about 25 kids performed on our stage under the excellent direction of Ben Staley and Lenia Richards. Total attendance was about 100 people. It was so encouraging to “put on a show” again after being dark for so many months!"
Next on the horizon is a Live Oak’s Youth Theatre program, open to the public for students ages 8-18. The Youth Theatre will work together to produce and perform 3 shows each year as well as participate in Brooksville’s annual Tree Lighting. The Youth Theatre's debut production will be “Adventures in Wonderland”, an original Musical adaptation of Lewis Carrol’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.
The objective of this educational youth theater program, wrote Olsen, is to help students learn, grow and shine in the theatrical arts. Those with kids interested in joining the Youth Theatre should contact Katie Moore at [email protected], as soon as possible, as the cast list is limited to 25 students. As soon as it’s finished, Live Oak will be sending out a pdf of the script so that cast members can prepare for auditions prior to the first day of class/rehearsal, Tuesday, September 8.
Tuition for the Youth theatre will be waived for Live Oak Conservatory students who are currently taking 4 or more credits; sponsorships and financial aid may be available for students in need.
Live Oak also is seeking student sponsorship opportunities from local businesses, along with regular donors and volunteers who will help continue and enhance Live Oak's mission to entertain and enlighten the community. To support Live Oak, contact them at
The Live Oak Theatre, 21030 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville, FL 34601, (352) 593-0027, and [email protected]